9 Agile Estimation Techniques

October 13, 2015
8 minute read
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Many people have used a variation of Planning Poker to do Agile estimation.  Here is a reference of 9 different Agile estimation techniques for different circumstances.  I have seen all of these techniques work in practice, except one.  Try a new one each Sprint!

Planning Poker

Participants use specially-numbered playing cards to vote for an estimate of an item.  Voting repeats with discussion until all votes are unanimous.  There are lots of minor variations on Planning Poker.  Good technique to estimate a very small number of items (2 to 10).

The Bucket System

Using the same sequence as Planning Poker, a group or a team estimate items by placing them in “buckets”.  The Bucket System is a much faster Agile estimation technique than Planning Poker because there is a “divide-and-conquer” phase.  The Bucket System can also be used with larger groups than Planning Poker and with very large numbers of items to be estimated (50 to 500).  I teach this agile estimation technique in my Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) learning events.

Big/Uncertain/Small

For super-fast Agile estimation, the items to be estimated are simply placed by the group in one of three categories: big, uncertain and small.  The group starts by discussing a few together, and then, like the Bucket System, uses divide-and-conquer to go through the rest of the items.  I also teach this one in my Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) .

TFB / NFC / 1 (Sprint)

This Agile estimation technique is similar to Big/Uncertain/Small but puts a specific “size” into the mix, namely 1 Sprint.  The categories are “Too F-ing Big”, “No F-ing Clue” and “1” Sprint (or less).  I learned this one recently from someone in one of my CSPO classes.

Dot Voting

Dot voting is usually considered a decision-making tool, not an Agile estimation technique.  However, for estimating small numbers of items, dot voting can be a super-simple and effective technique.  Each person gets a small number of “dots” and uses them as votes to indicate the size of an item; more dots means bigger.  This is a common technique and we use it frequently when we do agile coaching for teams at our clients.

T-Shirt Sizes

Items are categorized into t-shirt sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL.  The sizes can, if needed, be given numerical values after the estimation is done.  This is a very informal technique, and can be used quickly with a large number of items.  Usually, the decisions about the size are based on open, collaborative discussion, possibly with the occasional vote to break a stalemate.  There is a brief description of T-Shirt Sizes here.

Affinity Mapping

Items are grouped by similarity – where similarity is some dimension that needs to be estimated.  This is usually a very physical activity and requires a relatively small number of items (20 to 50 is a pretty good range).  The groupings are then associated with numerical estimates if desired.

Ordering Protocol

Items are placed in a random order on a scale labeled simply “low” to “high”.  Each person participating takes turns making a “move”.  A move involves one of the following actions: change the position of an item by one spot lower or one spot higher, talking about an item, or passing.  If everyone passes, the ordering is done.  The Challenge, Estimate, Override and the Relative Mass Valuation methods are variations on the ordering protocol.

Divide until Maximum Size or Less

The group decides on a maximum size for items (e.g. 1 person-day of effort).  Each item is discussed to determine if it is already that size or less.  If the item is larger than the maximum size, then the group breaks the item into sub-items and repeats the process with the sub-items.  This continues until all items are in the allowed size range.

Principles of Agile Estimation

Agile estimation techniques are collaborative.  All appropriate people are included in the process.  For example the whole Scrum team participates in estimating effort of Product Backlog Items.  Collaborative techniques are also designed so that it is impossible to blame someone for an incorrect estimate: there is no way to trace who estimated what.

Agile estimation techniques are designed to be fast (-er than traditional techniques) and deliberately trade off accuracy.  We are not trying to learn to predict the future… or get better at estimation. Instead, we recognize that estimation is a non-value added activity and minimize it as much as possible.

Most Agile estimation techniques use relative units.  This means that we don’t try to estimate dollars or days directly.  Instead, we use “points” or even qualitative labels and simply compare the items we are estimating to each other.  This takes advantage of the human capacity to compare things to each other and avoids our difficulty in comparing something to an abstract concept (such as dollars or days).

Check out my recent articles Everyone is Bad at Predicting the Future and Agile Planning in a Nutshell.

What Other Agile Estimation Methods Are There?

Choosing a Technique

If you need to estimate a small number of items, say, less than 12, consider:

  • Dot voting
  • Ordering protocol
  • Planning poker

If you don’t need numerical estimates, consider:

  • T-shirt sizes
  • Ordering protocol
  • Big / uncertain / small

If you need to estimate many items quickly, say, 50 or more, consider:

  • The bucket system
  • TFB / NFC / 1
  • Dot voting

If you need to have strong alignment and mutual understanding among those doing the estimating, consider:

  • Planning poker
  • Divide until maximum size or less
  • Affinity mapping
  • Ordering protocol

If your team is very new to Agile Estimation, consider:

  • Planning poker
  • The bucket system

If you need your estimates to inform a long-term plan, consider:

  • The bucket system
  • Affinity mapping
  • Divide until maximum size or less

Practice Agile Estimation Virtually!

Join me at one of my virtual Certified Scrum Master training sessions and practice “Big/Uncertain/Small” and “The Bucket System” with a real team and participate in an in-depth discussion of the principles and practices of Agile estimation and planning.  Check out our schedule for North and South American, Western European English-speaking participants here:

Virtual Learning [with BERTEIG] is much better than the in-person. I have a distributed team and it’s been fantastic to learn some tools that I definitely can use to collaborate with them. — Elisabeth Rosenfeld, Project Director, Enterprise Risk Management, CIBC, March 24, 2020

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    The Certified ScrumMaster® course is normally the recommended entry point to the practice of Scrum and is a prerequisite to more advanced certifications: A-CSM®, CSP-SM®.

    - 16 PDUs | 16 SEUs (REP with Scrum Alliance® and PMI)
    - Scrum Alliance® exam fee and 2-year membership included
    - In-depth simulation, engaging classroom discussion & no slides!

    Please register using a corporate email address, for corporate loyalty program discounts.

    __________________________________________________________________________

    IMPORTANT NOTE: This learning event requires:
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    All participants are expected to have completed the preparatory work before the start of the class. Failure to do so, will mean rescheduling and application of the $150 Rescheduling Fee.

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    The Certified ScrumMaster® course is normally the recommended entry point to the practice of Scrum and is a prerequisite to more advanced certifications: A-CSM®, CSP-SM®.

    - 16 PDUs | 16 SEUs (REP with Scrum Alliance® and PMI)
    - Scrum Alliance® exam fee and 2-year membership included
    - In-depth simulation, engaging classroom discussion & no slides!

    Please register using a corporate email address, for corporate loyalty program discounts.

    __________________________________________________________________________

    IMPORTANT NOTE: This learning event requires:
    - 3 hours of Scrum preparatory work
    - review of Scrum foundational videos
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    All participants are expected to have completed the preparatory work before the start of the class. Failure to do so, will mean rescheduling and application of the $150 Rescheduling Fee.

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    The Certified ScrumMaster® course is normally the recommended entry point to the practice of Scrum and is a prerequisite to more advanced certifications: A-CSM®, CSP-SM®.

    - 16 PDUs | 16 SEUs (REP with Scrum Alliance® and PMI)
    - Scrum Alliance® exam fee and 2-year membership included
    - In-depth simulation, engaging classroom discussion & no slides!

    Please register using a corporate email address, for corporate loyalty program discounts.

    __________________________________________________________________________

    IMPORTANT NOTE: This learning event requires:
    - 3 hours of Scrum preparatory work
    - review of Scrum foundational videos
    - completion of quizzes and SM-ready test


    All participants are expected to have completed the preparatory work before the start of the class. Failure to do so, will mean rescheduling and application of the $150 Rescheduling Fee.

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    The Certified ScrumMaster® course is normally the recommended entry point to the practice of Scrum and is a prerequisite to more advanced certifications: A-CSM®, CSP-SM®.

    - 16 PDUs | 16 SEUs (REP with Scrum Alliance® and PMI)
    - Scrum Alliance® exam fee and 2-year membership included
    - In-depth simulation, engaging classroom discussion & no slides!

    Please register using a corporate email address, for corporate loyalty program discounts.

    __________________________________________________________________________

    IMPORTANT NOTE: This learning event requires:
    - 3 hours of Scrum preparatory work
    - review of Scrum foundational videos
    - completion of quizzes and SM-ready test


    All participants are expected to have completed the preparatory work before the start of the class. Failure to do so, will mean rescheduling and application of the $150 Rescheduling Fee.

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    IMPORTANT NOTE: This learning event requires:
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    - review of Scrum foundational videos
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    All participants are expected to have completed the preparatory work before the start of the class. Failure to do so, will mean rescheduling and application of the $150 Rescheduling Fee.

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    This 2-day course provides the foundations to be an effective Product Owner. Successful completion of this course leads to becoming a Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO) with Scrum Alliance®.

    The Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO) course is ideally suited to those working with the 'business' and whose priorities include satisfying the needs of the customer.

    It is valuable to have already taken the Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) prior to taking this course. This class leads to the more advanced certifications: A-CSPO® and CSP-PO®.

    - 16 PDUs | 16 SEUs (REP with Scrum Alliance® & PMI®)
    - 2-year membership with Scrum Alliance® included
    - Access 2 free e-books: "The Scrum Product Owner" and "Agile Advice"
    - No slides! In-depth simulation, classroom discussion

    Please register using a corporate email address, for corporate loyalty program discounts.



    IMPORTANT NOTE: This learning event requires:
    - 2 hours of Scrum preparatory work
    - review of Scrum foundational videos
    - completion of quizzes and PO-ready test


    All participants are expected to have completed the preparatory work before the start of the class. Failure to do so, will mean rescheduling and application of the $150 Rescheduling Fee.

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    - Manage your backlog to achieve maximum ROI -

    This 2-day course provides the foundations to be an effective Product Owner. Successful completion of this course leads to becoming a Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO) with Scrum Alliance®.

    The Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO) course is ideally suited to those working with the 'business' and whose priorities include satisfying the needs of the customer.

    It is valuable to have already taken the Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) prior to taking this course. This class leads to the more advanced certifications: A-CSPO® and CSP-PO®.

    - 16 PDUs | 16 SEUs (REP with Scrum Alliance® & PMI®)
    - 2-year membership with Scrum Alliance® included
    - Access 2 free e-books: "The Scrum Product Owner" and "Agile Advice"
    - No slides! In-depth simulation, classroom discussion

    Please register using a corporate email address, for corporate loyalty program discounts.



    IMPORTANT NOTE: This learning event requires:
    - 2 hours of Scrum preparatory work
    - review of Scrum foundational videos
    - completion of quizzes and PO-ready test


    All participants are expected to have completed the preparatory work before the start of the class. Failure to do so, will mean rescheduling and application of the $150 Rescheduling Fee.

    Location:

    Online

    Date:

    Tue 27-Oct-2020
    Wed 28-Oct-2020

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    09:00 AM to 04:30 PM (EST)

    Trainer:
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    Chief Executive Officer
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    - Manage your backlog to achieve maximum ROI -

    This 2-day course provides the foundations to be an effective Product Owner. Successful completion of this course leads to becoming a Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO) with Scrum Alliance®.

    The Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO) course is ideally suited to those working with the 'business' and whose priorities include satisfying the needs of the customer.

    It is valuable to have already taken the Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) prior to taking this course. This class leads to the more advanced certifications: A-CSPO® and CSP-PO®.

    - 16 PDUs | 16 SEUs (REP with Scrum Alliance® & PMI®)
    - 2-year membership with Scrum Alliance® included
    - Access 2 free e-books: "The Scrum Product Owner" and "Agile Advice"
    - No slides! In-depth simulation, classroom discussion

    Please register using a corporate email address, for corporate loyalty program discounts.



    IMPORTANT NOTE: This learning event requires:
    - 2 hours of Scrum preparatory work
    - review of Scrum foundational videos
    - completion of quizzes and PO-ready test


    All participants are expected to have completed the preparatory work before the start of the class. Failure to do so, will mean rescheduling and application of the $150 Rescheduling Fee.

    Location:

    Online

    Date:

    Tue 24-Nov-2020
    Wed 25-Nov-2020

    Time:

    09:00 AM to 04:30 PM (EST)

    Trainer:
    Mishkin Berteig

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    Chief Executive Officer
    About Trainer
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    15 to 16 DEC 2020 - Starting Tuesday - Online - Mishkin Berteig

    Early-bird Discount! C$1795.00 C$1525.75 Until 16-Nov-2020 Register Now

    - Manage your backlog to achieve maximum ROI -

    This 2-day course provides the foundations to be an effective Product Owner. Successful completion of this course leads to becoming a Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO) with Scrum Alliance®.

    The Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO) course is ideally suited to those working with the 'business' and whose priorities include satisfying the needs of the customer.

    It is valuable to have already taken the Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) prior to taking this course. This class leads to the more advanced certifications: A-CSPO® and CSP-PO®.

    - 16 PDUs | 16 SEUs (REP with Scrum Alliance® & PMI®)
    - 2-year membership with Scrum Alliance® included
    - Access 2 free e-books: "The Scrum Product Owner" and "Agile Advice"
    - No slides! In-depth simulation, classroom discussion

    Please register using a corporate email address, for corporate loyalty program discounts.



    IMPORTANT NOTE: This learning event requires:
    - 2 hours of Scrum preparatory work
    - review of Scrum foundational videos
    - completion of quizzes and PO-ready test


    All participants are expected to have completed the preparatory work before the start of the class. Failure to do so, will mean rescheduling and application of the $150 Rescheduling Fee.

    Location:

    Online

    Date:

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    Wed 16-Dec-2020

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    09:00 AM to 04:30 PM (EST)

    Trainer:
    Mishkin Berteig

    Mishkin Berteig


    Chief Executive Officer
    About Trainer

All virtual learning events run from 9am to 4:30pm Toronto/New York time and are 100% virtual.  Both CSM and CSPO courses have approximately 2 hours of required pre-work through our e-learning portal, and require you to have high speed internet for Zoom video conferencing and Miro virtual white-boarding.

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    This 2-day course provides the foundations to be an effective Scrum Master. Achieve Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) designation by successfully completing this training and the online exam taken after the class (you'll receive the link directly from Scrum Alliance®).

    The Certified ScrumMaster® course is normally the recommended entry point to the practice of Scrum and is a prerequisite to more advanced certifications: A-CSM®, CSP-SM®.

    - 16 PDUs | 16 SEUs (REP with Scrum Alliance® and PMI)
    - Scrum Alliance® exam fee and 2-year membership included
    - In-depth simulation, engaging classroom discussion & no slides!

    Please register using a corporate email address, for corporate loyalty program discounts.

    __________________________________________________________________________

    IMPORTANT NOTE: This learning event requires:
    - 3 hours of Scrum preparatory work
    - review of Scrum foundational videos
    - completion of quizzes and SM-ready test


    All participants are expected to have completed the preparatory work before the start of the class. Failure to do so, will mean rescheduling and application of the $150 Rescheduling Fee.

    Location:

    Online

    Date:

    Tue 25-Aug-2020
    Wed 26-Aug-2020

    Time:

    09:00 AM to 04:30 PM (EST)

    Trainer:
    Mishkin Berteig

    Mishkin Berteig


    Chief Executive Officer
    About Trainer
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    Early-bird Discount! C$1595.00 C$1355.75 Until 11-Aug-2020 Register Now

    - Create Adaptive Product Teams in Any Business -

    This 2-day course provides the foundations to be an effective Scrum Master. Achieve Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) designation by successfully completing this training and the online exam taken after the class (you'll receive the link directly from Scrum Alliance®).

    The Certified ScrumMaster® course is normally the recommended entry point to the practice of Scrum and is a prerequisite to more advanced certifications: A-CSM®, CSP-SM®.

    - 16 PDUs | 16 SEUs (REP with Scrum Alliance® and PMI)
    - Scrum Alliance® exam fee and 2-year membership included
    - In-depth simulation, engaging classroom discussion & no slides!

    Please register using a corporate email address, for corporate loyalty program discounts.

    __________________________________________________________________________

    IMPORTANT NOTE: This learning event requires:
    - 3 hours of Scrum preparatory work
    - review of Scrum foundational videos
    - completion of quizzes and SM-ready test


    All participants are expected to have completed the preparatory work before the start of the class. Failure to do so, will mean rescheduling and application of the $150 Rescheduling Fee.

    Location:

    Online

    Date:

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    Trainers:
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    VP Training Services, Senior Consultant and Instructor
    About Trainer
    Mishkin Berteig

    Mishkin Berteig


    Chief Executive Officer
    About Trainer
  • Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) [Virtual Learning] badge

    Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) [Virtual Learning]

    22 to 23 SEP 2020 - Starting Tuesday - Online - Jerry Doucett & Mishkin Berteig

    Early-bird Discount! C$1595.00 C$1355.75 Until 31-Aug-2020 Register Now

    - Create Adaptive Product Teams in Any Business -

    This 2-day course provides the foundations to be an effective Scrum Master. Achieve Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) designation by successfully completing this training and the online exam taken after the class (you'll receive the link directly from Scrum Alliance®).

    The Certified ScrumMaster® course is normally the recommended entry point to the practice of Scrum and is a prerequisite to more advanced certifications: A-CSM®, CSP-SM®.

    - 16 PDUs | 16 SEUs (REP with Scrum Alliance® and PMI)
    - Scrum Alliance® exam fee and 2-year membership included
    - In-depth simulation, engaging classroom discussion & no slides!

    Please register using a corporate email address, for corporate loyalty program discounts.

    __________________________________________________________________________

    IMPORTANT NOTE: This learning event requires:
    - 3 hours of Scrum preparatory work
    - review of Scrum foundational videos
    - completion of quizzes and SM-ready test


    All participants are expected to have completed the preparatory work before the start of the class. Failure to do so, will mean rescheduling and application of the $150 Rescheduling Fee.

    Location:

    Online

    Date:

    Tue 22-Sep-2020
    Wed 23-Sep-2020

    Time:

    09:00 AM to 04:30 PM (EST)

    Trainers:
    Jerry Doucett

    Jerry Doucett


    VP Training Services, Senior Consultant and Instructor
    About Trainer